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Financial Planning > Tax Planning

How to Hire for Skills, Not Experience

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How can an advisory firm flesh out a proper job description to ensure hiring for the needed responsibilities and attracting the right candidates?

We review hundreds of job descriptions each year and, frankly, they all look alike. Most begin with something to the effect of, “seeking CFP certificant with (insert # of years of experience here) to work with our clients and provide great service… ,” or “seeking (insert title, e.g. Associate Planner, here) to put together plans and support senior planners… .”

This isn’t the best way to promote a position because titles and years of experience do not tell a hiring firm much about the candidate.

This likely is due to the lack of consensus on what financial planning truly is, and what you must do to call yourself a financial planner. There is even less consistency on titles for the various career stages within a firm. And while the CFP Board of Standards has released a white paper describing the ideal career path for a CFP and corresponding titles based on career stage, the approach is not yet widely adopted.

Therefore, asking for an “Associate Planner” or someone with “three years of experience” is not an effective recruitment strategy, due to lack of common established standards. This stands in stark contrast to other professions like medicine and accounting, where employers understand what they are getting when hiring for a Tax Manager, or what a hospital can expect a third-year resident to be able to do.

For example, here is a scenario we encountered with two candidates. Both were CFP certificants stating they had three years of experience, which was accurate based on the resumes they provided us. However, as we dug deeper, it became clear that one candidate had a much higher quality of experience.

Remember, it is not the time that matters, as much as what went on during that time.

In this case, both were presenting themselves as Associate Planners with three years of experience, but it turned out one was primarily an assistant type who had spent most of the last three years calculating life insurance needs analyses, pulling quotes, and completing insurance and annuity applications.

The other candidate, however, had spent the bulk of their time preparing financial plans and co-delivering them during several hundred meetings, which was the experience our client was seeking.

An unfortunate aspect of these scenarios is that the candidate who spent the time working strictly on the insurance needs was not trying to mislead, as in fact was adamant that they were doing “financial planning”… because that is all others in their organization had told them. Also, worth noting, is the CFP Board granted both individuals the CFP credential based on these work experiences, even though one was obviously much more qualified than the other.

Thus, the more specific a firm can be when promoting and discussing a position with potential candidates by detailing what the candidate’s actual responsibilities will be, the better. For example, “for you to succeed in this position, you will need to be able to or have had experience with… .”

Here are some examples that may help get you started:

• Has developed recommendations and delivered multi-disciplinary advice to high net worth clients individually.

• Acted as first chair (primary advisor) for at least a few dozen clients.

• Has completed at least 30 full financial plans in MoneyGuidePro.

• Developed prospective clientele from your own network and converted to retainer clients.

• Researched and implemented equity positions in client portfolios.

If you take this laser-focused approach, and are not generating any interest from candidates, your expectations might be too high (at least for the compensation being offered), and/or what you are seeking doesn’t exist. But that’s better than the alternative — that you don’t know what you want, and then employ a big tent approach that leads to a lot of wasted time and effort.

Caleb Brown is a past chairman of FPA NexGen and partner in New Planner Recruiting LLC. He can be reached at


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